UK COVID-19 Daily: NHS Staff Testing 'Starts Next Week'

Tim Locke

March 27, 2020

Editor's note: This article may not reflect the latest COVID-19 information. Find the latest news, expert opinion, and guidance in Medscape UK's COVID-19 Resource Centre

An announcement about COVID-19 testing for NHS staff was one of many developments on coronavirus in the UK today.

PM and Health Secretary Test Positive

In today's COVID-19 statistics, two new confirmed cases got particular attention: the Prime Minister and the Health and Social Care Secretary. Government Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty is self-isolating.

As one expert put it, "A virus does not respect authority or position."

Doctors’ Association UK pointed out how Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock were given NHS tests that are not available to symptomatic doctors and healthcare workers.

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England was asked to explain the rationale behind the PM's test. "Firstly, that you must have clinical symptoms. The default position without that is, you would not be tested, and then the only other criteria would be the centrality of your role to the COVID-19 response. And in this particular case, I'm sure your viewers will understand that the Prime Minister plays a very critical role in that. And that's the basis for our testing." 

She said there was no current basis to test ministers and officials who have not shown symptoms.

Michael Gove, minister for the Cabinet Office, led today's Downing Street briefing. He was asked if it was "careless or negligent" that the PM, Health Secretary, and England's CMO weren't better protected. "The Prime Minister succumbing to the virus is a reminder of how seriously we all need to take the advice that the NHS has been giving us," he said.


Yesterday saw the first rise of more than 100 deaths in one day. Today saw a further 181 deaths.

The deaths are now reported as being hospitalised patients.

Currently, there are more than 6200 confirmed positive coronavirus patients in hospitals across England.

Meanwhile, local media reports say Essex GP Dr Habib Zaidi has become the first UK doctor to die after having suspected coronavirus symptoms.


Antigen Testing

Mr Gove gave an example of Boris Johnson still working hard despite self-isolation. "The Prime Minister has brought together businesses, research institutes, and universities in a new alliance to boost testing capacity for frontline workers. Increasing our testing capacity is absolutely crucial in our response to, and our fight against, coronavirus. 

"This is a particular priority for those who work in the health and social care sector, and are working so hard to keep us all safe. This will be antigen testing, testing whether people currently have the disease, so that our health and social care workers can have security in the knowledge that they are safe to return to work if the test is negative. 

"These tests will be trialled for people on the frontlines starting immediately with hundreds, taking place by the end of the weekend, dramatically scaling up next week."

NHS England Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens added: "From an NHS perspective, we think it is urgently important that we are able to test frontline staff who are off sick or otherwise isolating. And that's why the work the Public Health England has been leading is so important because it means that we're going to be able to double, by this time next week, the number of tests compared to the number that we've been doing this week.

"And so I can say that today, we're announcing that we will be rolling out staff testing across the NHS beginning next week, starting with the critical care nurses, other staff in intensive care, emergency departments, ambulance services, GPs, and as the testing volumes continue to increase, we want to expand that to a wider range of essential public service workers, including our social care services, as well as, of course, continuing with the patient testing, which is so vital."

More Field Hospitals

Sir Simon also announced more field hospitals after the London ExCel Centre: "I have given the go ahead to the building of two further of these NHS Nightingale Hospitals, beginning at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre, and the Manchester Central Convention Centre, with further such hospitals to follow."

He also said the NHS had taken measures to free-up beds: "Over the last several weeks, we have freed up the equivalent of 50 hospitals across England, ready and waiting for coronavirus patients." 

Sky News reported that a temporary mortuary is to be built at Birmingham Airport.

'National Scandal'

Lancet Editor Richard Horton had strong criticism for the Government's response to COVID-19, including the lack of PPE and testing: "The NHS has been wholly unprepared for this pandemic. It's impossible to understand why." He said that "basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored". 

He concluded quoting the words of  one health worker who wrote last week that it was "a national scandal". Today Mr Horton wrote that: "The gravity of that scandal has yet to be understood."

Welcome Back

The General Medical Council (GMC) has granted temporary registration to 11,856 doctors who'd left the profession in the past 3 years. They were among around 150,000 invited to return to work to help the NHS with COVID-19.

In a statement the GMC said: "Some doctors opted out, and the remaining 11,856 have now been granted temporary registration with a licence to practice. The average age of the doctors is around 53, and more than a third are aged under 45."

GMC Chair, Dame Clare Marx, said: "The challenge facing our health services, and indeed the UK as a whole, is unprecedented. Doctors are leading the fight and are working under immense pressure. Returning to practice in the current situation is a major commitment, and we are very grateful to each and every one of the doctors who are doing so.

"We realise that for many the decision about whether to return to clinical work, and what roles they might be willing to do, is a difficult one. Doctors who had left the profession are under no obligation to return, and even now that temporary registration has been granted they are still able to change their minds if they wish, for any reason."

Trust's Cancellation of All Cancer Treatment Criticised

In his latest assessment of how coronavirus is affecting UK cancer care, Prof Karol Sikora is critical of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust's decision to cancel all cancer treatment due to COVID-19.

"That's not a good approach. It's got to be an oncology approach from cancer specialists, nurses, or oncologists, that decide how to sort the patients out, how to triage the patients out for delay, cancellation, or continuing much as normal," Prof Sikora said in his Medscape UK video commentary.

Big Round of Applause

If you had any doubt the country appreciated what you're doing, last night’s 'Clap For Carers' may have brought the message home. 

The Royal Family, the Prime Minister (before his diagnosis), Daniel Craig, and millions of others joined in.



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